Andrew Janz has knocked on more doors throughout California’s 22nd district than he can count. He’s attended more than 100 campaign house parties and visited nearly every rural community in the district.
From the moment Janz submitted his candidacy paperwork, he knew he wanted to run a grassroots campaign.
But he could have never imagined what running for U.S. House of Representatives would entail.
“Watching people give up time and resources to effect change has been humbling,” he said. “They realize how important this race is.”
Janz is running against a tough opponent, eight-time incumbent Devin Nunes.
Despite negative headlines in local and national news, Nunes finished as the top vote-getter in June’s primary with more than 58 percent of the vote.
But that hasn’t stopped Janz from going full steam ahead with his campaign.
A flock of young volunteers left Janz’s Visalia headquarters on Mooney Boulevard on Wednesday afternoon.
All were wearing Janz button on their chests.
The energetic group was preparing for an event later that evening in central Visalia.
Janz’s campaign is fueled by volunteers and people willing to open their home to the first-time challenger.
“We have the grassroots army of volunteers and small-dollar donors. Devin Nunes has Trump and the one percent,” Janz said. “I trust the people of the Central Valley will take a hard look at who is backing each candidate and vote for real representation this November.”
Janz has broken his first-quarter haul of $1.1 million by bringing in over $1.4 million dollars in the last three months.
With no corporate PAC money or self-funding, Janz pulled in nearly $1.5 million dollars with an average donation of only $19.27.
His cycle total is more than $2.8 million.
“My campaign is funded by people, (Nunes) is funded by PACs,” Janz said.
When asked about outside funding, Janz’s Campaign Manager Heather Greven said, “there’s no doubt money is pouring in from every corner.”
Janz has five times as many in-district donations than Nunes, Greven added.
Many of his supporters have said they are donating to the campaign because of the current political climate.
On Wednesday, roughly 100 potential voters packed Visalia’s Lincoln Oval Park for a chance to shake hands with Janz and grab a lawn sign.
“I can’t stand Nunes. He doesn’t represent who we are,” said Vineta Harper, of Visalia. “It’s sad he hasn’t even shown up in our community.”
Margo Denison, of Visalia, was inspired by Janz and decided to volunteer for the campaign.
“He understands what our community needs,” she said. “He’s willing to stand up for us.”
This election is “critically important” for Denison, she said
George Betancur said he’s never been that involved in politics, but that’s recently changed.
“We are at such a critical junction in this country,” he said. “We need to be involved in what’s going on.”
Betancur and his wife, Susan Betancur, have hosted one of the many Janz house parties. They have been following the democratic candidate closely.
Janz didn’t have plans to run for political office. He doesn’t believe not having served on an elected board disqualifies him as a strong candidate.
“I’m not someone who’s a career politician,” he said. “I don’t believe in the perception that you have to do your time before running for office.”
He believes having a passion and understanding of the district is enough.
A Redwood High School graduate and son of immigrants, Janz said he wasn’t involved in extracurriculars while in high school.
He worked much of high school career, eventually becoming the manager of McDonald’s on Demaree Street and Mineral King Avenue his senior year.
“When I become a manager, I came home and told my dad I didn’t have to go to college anymore,” Janz joked.
Janz did go to college, attending California State University, Stanislaus where he received his bachelor’s in economics and master’s in public administration.
In 2007, Andrew was appointed by the Chancellor of Stanislaus to a statewide strategic planning commission tasked with mapping the future of higher education in California.
He was also selected to attend the Panetta Institute for Public Policy founded by former CIA Director Leon Panetta.
This experience deeply impacted his life, Janz said.
“Doing that, I learned a lot about politics,” he said. “I think he’s (Leon Panetta) one of the people who’s had the most impact on my life, in terms of being a public servant.”
He later attended Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles where he earned his law degree. He’s been working as a prosecutor for Fresno County District Attorney’s office since 2014 and has tried several violent crime cases.
Janz’s wife, Heather Walker Janz, is a small business owner and the President-elect of the Central Valley Chapter of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, according to his campaign website.
Although his home is now in Fresno, Janz said he has deep roots in Tulare County.
“I have a pretty sharp grasp on what people want to see in a member of Congress,” he said.
Even with an ever-growing support base, the 34-year-old candidate has a hard row to hoe in his race against Tulare’s favorite son.
Of the more than 347,000 voters in District 22, at least 147,000 are registered Republican. Democrats come in second with 111,000-plus voters here.
And many of those voters still believe in Nunes.
Despite making national news headlines over his tenure as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes still has a strong support base in his district.
Numbers from June 5’s primary election showed the eight-time incumbent racking up more votes than his five competitors — combined.
“He is by far the most popular politician in the district,” said Stephen Tootle, a history instructor at the College of the Sequoias and a self-described conservative Republican. “Numbers bare that year in and year out.”
In an interview with the Times-Delta Media Group after the June 5 primary election, Nunes credited his constituents for being smart enough to look past “fake news.”
Nunes, House Intelligence Committee chair, points to erroneous polls that said he would struggle to break 50 percent after nationwide controversy around his handling of a probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
“Congressman Nunes campaigns hard every election to earn the votes of his constituents, and this campaign will be no different,” said Anthony Ratekin, Nunes’ chief of staff. “Additionally, as a prominent national security leader, he is already being asked to campaign for Republicans across the country to ensure Republicans keep control of Congress and that Nancy Pelosi does not become the next House Speaker.”
Nunes has recently come under fire again for his campaign spending.
In a recent report by Advancing Democracy through Law, Nunes has spent $42,741 since 2013 on basketball tickets, catering, site rentals, and meals in Las Vegas.
In March, NEW PAC spent $7,229 at seven different restaurants and hotels in Las Vegas, according to the report.
Those expenses were listed as fundraisers — a common practice in Congress.
Roughly 58 percent of NEW PAC’s spending was for contributions to candidates or committees in the 2013-14 cycle. So far in 2017-18, 51 percent has been contributed to candidates, according to the report.
“This is a gross misuse of campaign funds. Spending campaign donations on lavish trips to Vegas and boozing at fancy wineries while people in his district are struggling to find jobs and clean drinking water is disgraceful,” Janz said. “Nunes should resign.”
It’s unclear whether Nunes’ campaign spending will have any effect on voters’ decision in November.
“He’s one of the most successful officials who’s served this area,” Tootle said. “He’s had concrete legislative victories.”
Nunes and Janz have both focused their campaigns on two issues — business and water.
“Through the election, we plan to stay focused on the core issues that concern our constituents, especially water and other agriculture-related issues,” Ratekin said.
Janz also said his focus is getting water to farmers. He believes his opponent has not done enough on the issue.
“I have spoken with countless local farmers, and I have looked at the state of our aquifer levels and water storage systems. I can tell you that Nunes hasn’t delivered,” he said. “I will work on increasing water storage for our Valley and commit to recharging our underground aquifers.”
In addition to water, Janz said he plans to increase communication between him and the constituents if elected.
“I want to meet as many people as possible,” he said. “I’m going to be a champion for this region.”
Janz believes the people are hungry for change.
Tootle disagrees with the notion Nunes has been ineffective. Nunes is Tulare County’s most popular politician in its history, he said.
Tootle noted that each year, a water bill has been passed since Nunes took office.
Nunes was also instrumental in the recent passage of the tax bill, he said.
“I don’t know how you can be more successful than that,” Tootle said.
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